THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA.*
THE nine volumes which compose this Imperial Gazetteer not only contain a condensation of the information which Englishmen, official and non-official, have collected concern- ing every subject having any bearing on the past history and present condition of the peoples of India, but they also place before the thoughtful reader a full description of that vast dependency which is governed, and which has been led into paths of unprecedented prosperity, by the superabundant energy of the Anglo-Saxon race. Even the most indifferent or cursory reader cannot long remain callous to the beauty and significance of the picture placed before him in so charming and cpuvenient a manner by the long labour and brilliant pen of Dr. Hunter. It is impossible that there can be two opinions on the point that Dr. Hunter's Gazetteer is a truly great work, and one which makes both the general public and the political or historical student equally his debtor. The idea of this Gazet- teer is admitted to be due to the celebrated administrative report, known as the Ain-i-Akbari, of the great Mogul Emperor Akbar ; but it will not be denied that this Gazetteer will serve for future ages as a not less striking or durable monument to the memory of British rule in Hindostan, than its prototype does in our eyes to the credit of Elizabeth's wisest contem- porary. Both the increased area of our Empire, and the more copious details procurable by means of our superior organisa- tion, tend to enhance our achievement, or to flatter our vanity, by showing that the English administration of India is a more complete, honourable, and splendid human exploit than that of the Prince whose grandsire conquered the kingdom of Delhi with a handful of adventurers from Afghanistan and Central Asia. Dr. Hunter has left the critic little to do beyond calling attention to his work, which more than satisfies all the requirements of the gazetteer, at the same time that it gives a complete account of the history and political institutions of the country. He has possessed unusual facilities ; all the stores of information at the disposal of the Indian Government were placed at his service, and the production of this work became the one object and business of his official career. But these considerations do not detract from the merit of Dr. Hunter's performance. Without them, indeed, it would have been im- possible for him to have accomplished what he has. Rather may we say that Dr. Hunter has justified the trust reposed in him more than twelve years ago. He has now completed his work, and we feel sure that both the country and the Indian authorities will agree that they have every reason to feel perfectly satisfied with the result. Dr. Hunter had already made his reputation as an authority on Indian questions ; but by this achieve- ment, he has outdistanced all his previous writings and those of his contemporaries as well, and has placed us all under a heavy obligation to him by a work whose pages attract, by their style, the sympathy and admiration of the reader, while the minute details and full information which they con- tain render it indispensable to both the Indian administrator and specialist.
Those who have occasion to refer to the pages of this work can do so in complete confidence that the facts which they find recorded in them are drawn from the most trustworthy sources, • The Imperial Gazetteer of India. By W. W. Hunter, C.I.B., LL.D. 9 vole. London ; Trilbner and Co. 1881.
and are based on the most recent and authentic information in the possession of the Indian Government. But admirable as are Dr. Hunter's descriptions of the principal cities, rivers, and mountain ranges, of the great administrative departments, of the larger and more important of the feudatory States, and of the other natural and political features of the country, they serve rather to heighten the interest and effect of the long article on India which occupies more than 500 pages of the fourth volume. We shall not be doing an injustice to the author, nor shall we convey an erroneous idea as to the scope and importance of this work, if we devote most of our attention to this article, which may be said to contain the kernel of the nine volumes. Dr. Hunter does not exclude from his picturesque account of India any matter which possesses an interest of its own, or which may have a tendency to throw light on the general subject. From the mythology of the early Aryan conquerors to the latest sanitary returns made under the direction of our Civil Service is a long descent, and in- cludes a great variety of subjects ; yet Dr. Hunter's survey is of the complete and exhaustive character that might be sur- mised from its extent. His description of the way in which the Aryans gradually displaced the non-Aryan aborigines is particularly interesting, and admits of quotation here. Having described those tribes, such as the Bhils, Santhals, and several others, who represent the original inhabitants of the country, Dr. Hunter goes on to place before his readers a graphic and glowing picture of the superior Aryan, who holds the civilised world in a common subjection. He writes :—
" This race belonged to the splendid Aryan or Indo-Germanic stock from which the Brahman, the Rajput, and the Englishman alike descend. Its earliest home seems to have been in Central Asia. From that common camping-ground, certain branches of the race started for the East, others for the West. One of the Western offshoots founded the Persian kingdom ; another built Athens and Lacedmmon, and became the Greek nation ; a third went on to Italy, and named the city on the Seven Hills, which grew into Imperial Rome. A distant colony of the same race excavated the silver ores of pre-historic Spain ; and, when we first catch a sight of ancient England, we see an Aryan settlement fishing in wattle canoes, and working the tin mines of Cornwall. Meanwhile, other branches of the Aryan stock had gone forth from the primitive home in Central Asia to the east. Powerful bands found their way through the passes of the Himalayas into the Punjab, and spread themselves, chiefly as Brahmans and Rajputs, over India The Vedic Hymns ex- hibit the Indian branch of the Aryans on their march to the south- east, and in their new homes. The earliest songs disclose the race still to the north of the Khaibar Pass in Kabul ; the later ones bring them as far as the Ganges. Their victorious advance eastwards through the intermediate track can be traced in the Vedic writings almost step by step."
Dr. Hunter's account of their early legends, and of the religious belief which was in part the source of the mythologies of Greece and Rome, appears to us to be exceedingly well done. Nor is his summary of the great epic of the Hindus, the Mahabltarata, a less excellent specimen of the author's powers of graphic de- scription and happy condensation. The English reader will find from its perusal his curiosity aroused to learn more con- cerning the rivalry of the Pa.ndavas and Kauravas, of the strength of Arjuna, of the beauty of the Princess Dranpadi, and of the legend of the virtuous Savitri, the faithful wife. It is the chief merit, perhaps, of Dr. Hunter's account of the people of India and their institutions, that he has been able to
throw so comprehensive a glance back. into the remote past of their history, and to show us the origin of those race, religious,
and caste difierences which at present divide the millions of the people into easily distinguishable and mutually un- sympathetic classes.
It was not until the eighth century of our era that Hinduism began to take definite form, on the decay of Buddhism. The great priestly order of the Brahmins, who had suffered in influence and position by the introduction of Buddhism, under the patronage of King Asoka, in the third century before Christ, but who had never abandoned the hope of recovering the ground they had lost, took the principal and foremost part in the promulgation and enforcement of this new creed, which was to knit the peoples of the peninsula together by a common bond. All the credit must not, however, be given to the Brahmins. It was they who "gave a direction to Hinduism, but it was the natural development of the Indian races which produced it." Dr. Hunter's description of the origin of caste, the social organisation on which Hinduism rests, is also particu- larly interesting. He says :—
"The ethnical basis of caste is disclosed in the old division of the
people into the twice-born' Aryan castes, including the Brahmans, Kshattriyas, and Vaisyaa ; and the once-born' non-Aryan Sadras. The census proves that this classification remains the fundamental one to the present day. The • twice-born' castes still wear the sacred thread, and claim a joint, although an unequal, inheritance in the holy books of the Veda. The once-born' castes are still denied the sacred thread, and their initiation into the religions literature of the Indo-.Aryans has only been effected by the secular teaching of our Anglo-Indian schools."
Having described the gradual growth of Hinduism, and the next great religious crisis in its history, the Vishnuvite reform- ation, Dr. Hunter gives what is likely to prove the popular account of the celebrated festival of Jagannath,—the Juggernaut of a less scientific day. It is the more entitled to be the gener- ally received version of this ceremony, because it corrects some- popular errors and misconceptions :—
"The Car Festival of Jagannath is perhaps the most typical' ceremony of the Vishnuvite faith. Jagannath, literally the End of the World,' represents, with unmistakable clearness, that coalition of Brahman and Buddhist doctrines which form the basis of Vishnu- worship. In his temple are three rude images, unconsciously repre-
senting the Brahmanical triad I came to the conclusion (in a previous work) which H. H. Wilson had arrived at from quite different sources, that self-immolation was entirely opposed to the- worship of Jagannath, and that the rare deaths at the Car Festival were almost always accidental. In a closely-packed, eager throng of a hundred thousand men and women at Puri, numbers of them unaccustomed to exposure or hard labour, and all of them tugging and straining to the utmost at the car under a blazing sun, deaths must occasionally occur. There have, doubtless, been isolated in- stances of pilgrims throwing themselves under the wheels in a frenzy of religious excitement The number of deaths, whether voluntary or accidental, as registered by the dispassionate candour of English officials, has always been insignificant, indeed, far fewer than those incident to the party processions of the hinsalmans ;- and under improved police arrangements, they have practically ceased. So far from encouraging religions suicides, the gentle doc- trines of Jagannath tended to check the once common custom of widow-burning. Even before the Government pat a stop to sati, in 1829, our officials observed its comparative infrequency at Puri. Widow-burning was discountenanced by the Vishnuvite reformers, and is stigmatised by a celebrated disciple as the fruitless union of beauty with a corpse.'" We had marked numerous other passages for quotation,. but we must draw our remarks to a conclusion. Those we have given may serve to convey a fair idea of the excep- tional merit of Dr. Hunter's description of India. Of the varied nature of the other contents of these volumes it would be hopeless to think of giving an adequate notice. The reader and those who have occasion at any time to referto these pages will be in a position to realise and value as it deserves the great service Dr. Hunter has rendered in the cause of history, which is truth, more or less accurately ascer- tained. It will not be Dr. Hunter's fault if those who in the- future discuss Indian topics fail to make use of the substantial. groundwork with which he has provided them, but ignorance will have the less right to expect the consideration which has hitherto been charitably bestowed upon it. All can refer to the Imperial Gazetteer for themselves. They will find it a mine of invaluable information, and practically in- exhaustible ; and their gratitude to Dr. Hunter will, it may be trusted, be in proportion to the obligation they receive. Dr. Hunter can now repose from his long labours in the full assur- ance that all who are brought into contact with his work will' recognise in it one of the most useful productions of human skill, perseverance, and organisation, in the field of letters. Its place in history is permanently assured, as the chronicle of an achievement in the task of empire unsurpassed in the history of man—the conquest and beneficent government of Hindostan by the English people.